Valiant Wakefield Trinity Wildcats gave Super League leaders Wigan Warriors a real scare before going down to a 36-23 defeat at the Rapid Solicitors Stadium on Sunday night.
Wildcats came from 10-0 down to lead 17-10 at half-time and remained on top until the last ten minutes when Wigan scored two tries and added a penalty to make the scoreline a flattering one in their favour.
Winger Josh Charnley scored a hat-trick for for Wigan, who extended their lead at the Super League summit to five points.
For Wildcats it was a fourth defeat on the spin but head coach Richard Agar was left to take plenty of positives from performance, especially with five senior players absent through injury.
Ali Lauitiiti, Andy Raleigh, Paul Aiton, Paul Sykes and Tim Smith were all out for an understrength Wakefield, but recent signing Taulima Tautai was handed his first start. Matty Wildie and Lucas Walshaw were also drafted in and Kyle Wood partnered Lee Smith in the halves.
Many predicted on-song Warriors to stroll to victory at a sun-drenched Rapid Solicitors Stadium against an understrength and out-of-form Wildcats side - and the match was running to script early on.
Sam Tomkins was the architect of Wigan’s opener six minutes in when his trademark tricky run across the Wildcats line allowed Charnley to go in at the corner. Pat Richards added the extras.
The league leaders extended their advantage less than ten minutes later with Charnley scoring his second to seemingly put the visitors in full control and leave Wakefield facing a long afternoon.
Agar’s men did not throw the towel in, however, and showed they are made of strong stuff to hit back in emphatic fashion and turn the game on its head at half-time.
Dean Collis’s 20th-minute try, converted by Smith, gave Wildcats some hope and just three minutes later skipper Danny Kirmond hauled the hosts level. Smith’s second successful kick edged Wakefield ahead.
Wildcats showed great teamwork in forcing Charnley into touch when he looked set to pounce for his hat-trick and Chris Tuson saw an effort chalked off for a knock-on.
But three minutes before half-time Wakefield extended their lead when Wood showed superb feet to burst through a gap to score a superb solo effort. Smith could not add the extras but he did sail a drop goal over the posts after the half-time hooter to edge the hosts seven points in front.
Just a minute after the restart Harrison Hansen crossed the line and Richards added the extras to give the visitors the perfect start to the second half.
Wildcats eased the pressure on their line and from their first threatening venture forward hit back with a clinical try to restore their seven-point lead. Wood produced a fine pass for Kirmond to take and cruise over for his second try of the match. Ben Cockayne took over kicking duties and succeeded.
Wood had a stormer for the hosts on the whole but his kick out on the full on the hour mark allowed Wigan to regain possession and eventually cross from the same set. Charnley got his hat-trick try with a nice finish in the corner and Richards converted.
With nine minutes to go when Lee Mossop spun over from close range to give the visitors the lead. Richards booted them five points ahead before adding a penalty to all-but secure the points. Darrell Goulding added another try as Warriors came through a tough test with a flattering scoreline.
Wildcats: Mathers, Fox, Collis, Lyne, Cockayne, L Smith, Wood, Poore, Wildie, Wilkes, Kirmond, Walshaw, Tautai. Subs: Molloy, Washbrook, Amor, Annakin.
Warriors: Tomkins, Charnley, Goulding, Thornley, Richards, Powell, Smith, Flower, McIlorum, Mossop, Hansen, Farrell, Burke. Subs: Lloyd, Tuson, Taylor, Tomkins.
Referee: Thierry Alibert.